The History of International Women’s Day
A widely celebrated holiday in many places (but not as common in the United States), International Women’s Day (IWD) is also known as “International Working Women’s Day” – with different emphases put according to region of the world observing the holiday. Interestingly, Europeans and the Soviet Bloc countries observe the holiday to a greater extent than others – a “mixture of Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day” now according to some, it had beginnings as a Socialist political event. Despite its greater observance internationally, however, the origin of Women’s Day was in New York in 1909, organized by the Socialist Party of America. With the idea to promote equal rights (including voting) for women, a subsequent meeting in 1910 led to the first IWD on March 19, 1911 – with demonstrations in mostly Europe and there in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Protests against discrimination occurred, and these spread in subsequent years to other countries including the Soviet Union. Later adopted by Chinese and Spanish communists, with ultimately the United Nations proclaiming march 8 as “the UN Day for Women’s Rights and World Peace” after 1977.
IWD was recently invigorated by President Barack Obama, who proclaimed March “Women’s History Month”; however, the stark contrast of the U.S. to countries like Egypt can be found where IWD observance in Tahrir Square in Egypt led to men chasing women out of the demonstration area, hence inflicting harassment.
The U.N., however, has had different themes for their version of IWD since 1996, with the 2014 theme being “Equality for Women is Progress for All” and the 2015 theme being “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It!”; prior themes included targeting hunger, poverty, and violence, as well as focusing upon education.
Present Day Observations
Numerous surprising countries (especially with the voting theme) have taken up observance of IWD – notably, Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Madagascar, Nepal, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, and Zambia are among the many; in several of these, the holiday is only for women, whereas in other countries such as Croatia, Cameroon, and Chile, the observance is without a holiday being granted. Gifts are given to women (whether friends or related otherwise).
Countries such as Pakistan have women celebrating to commemorate ongoing struggles for rights. In the United States, a bill referred to the House resulted in no vote; the United Kingdom, on the other hand, had the Trades Union Congress approve a resolution. U.K.-based organization Aurora has launched many related events.
An unusual custom in Taiwan for IWD involves “release of a governmental survey on women’s waist sizes with warnings regarding weight gain posing a hazard to health.”
On March 8, 2015, despite the U.S. not passing an official bill, marchers in Times Square chanting “Women’s rights are human rights” were noted, per the UN News Center.
The Future Implications of International Women’s Day
While there is some controversy about whether IWD should exist as it “reminds some people about the carry-over from some communist regimes which have since ceased to exist, e.g. in the Czech Republic,” the significance of the day remains in its message. The origins of the message, presumably to highlight workplace unfairness and protest for voting rights, have continued to be problems which are faced in many nations today.
The upcoming 2017 IWD is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution sparked by women protesting bread shortages in St. Petersberg. Today, in 2015 and beyond, avenues such as social media can be used to communicate goals.
The United States has somehow, possibly unintentionally, not given the day the importance that even Communist nations have; the fact that a bill was not even voted upon, and no apparent recent efforts seem to have been made despite President Obama’s declaration of a dedicated month around this day, appears somewhat unusual. It seems further odd that Communist countries, and other countries where voting rights are significantly limited, continue to observe IWD as a national holiday (perhaps not focusing upon voting rights at all, even though women may not have these or workplace fairness rights). Perhaps until an equal, level playing field exists, not only should the holiday continue to exist, but also the meaning behind the holiday should be both understood and strived towards accomplishing. While many countries have given women voting rights (and only more recently are providing more fair workplace rights, at least in principle), such change has only come in the recent century. Hence, IWD continues to have a highlighting, awareness-based role, until that mission of fairness is accomplished.